Industrial Growth Forecasts
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what representations he has had from the Confederation of British Industry on the growth prospects of British industry in the next two years.
I met officials of the CBI on 24 July to discuss the economic prospect. The CBI reiterated its support for the Government's economic policies, but also made plain to me its concern over the effect of high interest rates and a high exchange rate on the prospects for industry and therefore its desire that the Government, and particularly the local authorities, should press on with reducing their spending and borrowing.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that since then more and more messages have been coming in from British industry of closures, lay-offs and short-time working? Is it not therefore necessary to tell the Treasury that if it maintains the high bank rate for too long—I accept that it has been necessary to keep the high rate for a time to reduce inflation—there is a danger of overkill? If too many businesses go down, arising from a bombed-out situation, the Government will find themselves—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is arguing a case. He has asked two supplementary questions.
Order. Does the hon. Gentleman mind if his first two supplementary questions are answered?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government will have to make greater efforts and spend more money to help not only large, but small, businesses?
The message that my hon. Friend wants to reinforce is surely one not only for the Treasury but for all Government Departments, all local authorities and the whole of the public sector. The bulk of industry's problems are made much worse by the public sector's overspending.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many private representations he has received from big business men? Do they really support the policy of deliberately worsening the slump to discipline the unions, to reduce inflation and to weed out the inefficient? That seems incredible to me.
The hon. Gentleman has his assumptions wrong. In general, private business is behind the Government's policy, though it is desperately anxious that the Government should secure the lowering of inflation and interest rates, which can come only from reduced public sector, including Government, spending.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that interest rates would not now be so high if the public sector were not so dependent upon the amount of borrowing that it has to do? Secondly, does he accept that the private sector of industry would be a great deal better off if it had not paid so much in wages over the past two years?
I agree with both parts of my hon. Friend's question.
I noticed that the Secretary of State did not once refer to growth prospects in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis). I understand why he did not do so. Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Financial Times survey, reported today, in which the bulk of British industrialists claim that it is not high wages that are causing their present difficulties, but lack of demand? As this lack of demand is the direct result of Government deflationary activity, is it not about time that we had another U-turn?
No, Sir. The lack of demand reflects a lack of competitiveness—
because while imports are still pouring in there is a huge potential demand which British business is not able to meet because its products and prices do not satisfy our constituents in our high streets.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with representatives of the paper industry.
I met representatives from the paper industry on 21 July, when we discussed the industry's situation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we face the threat of the virtual extinction of the manufacturing of news print in Britain? Does he accept that that has arisen despite good labour relations and considerable improvements in productivity? What steps are the Government taking, or what steps can they take, to ease the threat?
I accept that the industry faces difficult pressures. I accept, too, that there are a limited number of possibilities, which are now being discussed between the Government and the industry.
Is the Secretary of State aware that about 60,000 jobs in the paper and cardboard industry are in jeopardy, principally because of the Government's insistence on raising the price of energy? Is he aware also that if that continues there is no way in which our industry will be competitive vis-á-vis its overseas competitors?
It is true that energy prices throughout the developed world are making it difficult for industry. That is one of the factors that it is raising with us.
Is not the increasing cost of energy one of the greatest burdens from which the paper and board industry is suddenly suffering? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the enormous increase in energy prices is breaking the camel's back?
My hon. and learned Friend will know that energy prices are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. The industry is arguing strongly that energy prices are damaging it.
Does the Secretary of State accept that British industry is paying much higher energy costs than its foreign competitors? Does he agree that what is needed, if the industry is to survive, is Government action at least to put it on a par with its competitors? Will he take the opportunity to announce that under section 7 of the Industry Act 1972 he is prepared to give assistance to Bowaters' Ellesmere Port plant to save 1,500 jobs?
I must not assume the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. There might be an argument whether, and if so the degree to which, the industry is paying more than its competitors. I have told the House that Bowaters and the industry are having discussions with the Government.
British Steel Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for Industry by what amount the taxpayer has subsidised the British Steel Corporation in the last 10 years; and how much this works out per household and person.
Over the 10 years to the end of March 1980, the Government have provided or guaranteed the British Steel Corporation about £4,700 million in loans and advances of capital to finance its capital investment, working capital, revenue deficits and other cash requirements. This is equivalent to £ 235 per household and £85 per person in the United Kingdom. No dividend on public dividend capital has been paid since 1974 –75. Interest on loan capital has been paid at a decreasing level in the past two years—since April 1978—because of the issue of interest-free finance under section 18 (1) of the Iron and Steel Act 1975.
As taxpayers have had to bear a considerable burden in the past decade, does my hon. Friend think it not unreasonable that taxpayers should now try to get an assurance from the Government that henceforth subsidies for the corporation will be confined to investment in sound capital projects, rather than merely to prop up the industry at the same manpower level, which by any token is a relatively high-wage low-productivity industry?
I am sure that the chairman of the corporation will have taken on board the force of my hon. Friend's comment. We look forward with great interest to receiving, and await urgently, the chairman's proposals.
Does the Minister agree that over the years the industry has been badly managed? Is it not a fact that a steel industry is vital and basic to a modern industrialised nation? Does the hon. Gentleman agree also that other countries have been more successful in disguising their subsidies—for example, the West German coking coal subsidy? Is the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) suggesting that we should turn our steel workers in South Wales into hotel porters and their wives into domestic servants in the South-East of England?
I shall attempt to answer two out of the four supplementary questions put to me. The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that the West German subsidy is designed to give coal a price that is equivalent to the world price. The corporation is currently importing steel at world prices to balance its load. As one who has known the industry for many years I recognise that there are problems, but the hon. Gentleman's condemnation of management is too sweeping and does not help the argument.
Order. I appeal to Ministers to answer one supplementary question only, because hon. Members are entitled to ask only one.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best service that could be done to the taxpayer and to the employees of BSC would be to sell the profitable bits of the corporation to the private sector?
Again, a question has been raised that must be very much in the mind of the chairman of the BSC in relation to his proposals. Such arguments cannot be taken in isolation at Question Time.
How much harder would all those households have had to work if we had had to import the £30 billion of steel that the BSC has produced over the past 10 years?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, he has posed a question that it is not possible to answer. Substantial amounts of money are involved and the British taxpayer has shown great faith in the industry. I support the BSC, but it must become profitable, not only in the interest of the industry, but in the interest of the many steel-consuming industries, on which this country's wealth essentially depends.
Does the Minister agree that the existence of a British bulk steel industry has been of enormous value to British industry during the past 10 years? If so, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to tell his 4 million-dollar man that British bulk steel will not best be preserved by closing down steel mills in South Wales?
I support the general proposition that this is a vital industry on which the whole of our industrial infrastructure depends. However, it must be competitive, not just in its own interests, but for the reasons that I outlined earlier.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will take steps to encourage the development of new industry in the Northern region.
Much of the Northern region already qualifies for the highest rates of regional and other industrial assistance.
Is the Minister aware that last Friday, 1 August, will be known as "black Friday" in the history of the Northern region, because the Government's new policy on downgrading much of the Northern region was implemented on that day? What percentage will unemployment have to reach before the Department of Industry and its Ministers consider re-establishing the special development area status that exists in much of the Northern region?
Of the Northern region, 88 per cent. is to remain an assisted area. As regards the precise percentages, the hon. gentleman will know that we are guided by the Industry Act and by the criteria that it sets out. They include a series of factors other than the level of unemployment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those who live in the Northern region and in other depressed regions can take comfort from the fact that the Government have recently made several decisions, such as investment in Inmos and investment through the NEB, in biotechnology, and have shown that they are not bound by the dogmatism of which the Opposition accuse them? The Government have shown that they are willing to intervene and to help the regions where it is felt appropriate.
We shall take into account my hon. Friend's remarks. He will appreciate that the role of the NEB is to help those areas in which sufficient incentives have not yet been created for the private market system to finance modern technological development on its own. In due course we hope to create such circumstances.
Does the Minister appreciate that his answer will give no satisfaction and bring no joy to the many thousands of unemployed in the Northern region? Has not the time come for the Secretary of State to make a decision about the establishment of the Northern Development Agency? Together with his team of Ministers, will the Secretary of State encourage the Treasury to reduce the minimum lending rate, in order to assist small industries in the Northern region and other development areas.
I shall pick one of those questions for reply, in accordance with your suggestion, Mr. Speaker. We are considering the arguments put forward about the Northern Development Agency.
Does the Minister stick by the damned nonsense that he trotted out on Tyne Tees television—
Order. However strongly hon. Members may feel, there is no need to use anything other than parliamentary language.
If the word "damned" offends you. Mr. Speaker, I withdraw it. I apologise. Does the Minister stick by the arrant nonsense that he trotted out on Tyne Tees television, to the effect that the only way of getting new industries into the area was for redundant workers to spend their redundancy payments on opening new businesses?
If the hon. Gentleman had paid more attention to what I said on that television programme he would have realised that I did not say that that was the only way of doing it. I said that there were parallels between those who used their post-war credits to start businesses that are now quite substantial and the opportunities for redundancy pay to be taken collectively by groups of workers, in some cases, to create new businesses and jobs. It is not a panacea, and I did not suggest that it was.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will consider initiating new steps to assist manufacturing industry.
The Government's policies of cutting public spending, reducing inflation, promoting enterprise, fostering small business, and restraining the excessive claims of the public sector, will create a climate in which industry can prosper. Financial assistance to industry also has a part to play, but industrial success depends on action by management and work force to improve competitiveness.
That reply comes from fantasy land. In view of the CBI's latest industrial survey, does not all the evidence point to a deepening recession, mounting unemployment and many closures all over the country? Given that, is it surprising that the Secretary of State for Industry is viewed as the grave digger of British industry and of British jobs?
My reply did not come from fantasy land. It is true that the prospect is one of deeping recession, which in turn reflects world recession, oil price increases and our own sustained decline in competitiveness in recent decades. It is fantasy on the part of Opposition Members to ignore that crucial factor, which is within our control.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if, when circumstances allow, his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to alleviate or abate the employers' national insurance surcharge—which was so unwisely laid on British industry by the previous Labour Government—that might help British industry?
The answer is "Yes" but my right hon. and learned Friend would surely say that that would either have to be done at the expense of reducing public expenditure elsewhere or by raising taxation or borrowing.
Is the Secretary of State aware that interest rates would have been a good deal lower today if the Government had not abolished exchange controls?
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is correct in being so confident and in deciding what decision-makers all over the world would have done about the exchange rate, which in itself has some connection with our internal financial affairs.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the abolition of national wage bargaining is of major importance to manufacturing industry and to employment prospects?
I am being tempted by all sorts of subjects outside my responsibility. Wage bargaining that ignores crucial local factors of supply·demand and profit does great damage to those firms and workers concerned.
Why is the Secretary of State being so modest about his Government? Why does he not take credit for his right hon. Friend's recent Green Paper on the streamlining of bankruptcy procedures, which must make life so much easier for him now that we have a record number of bankruptcies?
We still have some way to go before we reach the level of bankruptcies achieved by the Labour Government in 1975, 1976 and 1977.
Post Office Equipment
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what estimate he has made of the extent to which United Kingdom industry will be able to respond to official encouragement to manufacture private sector telephone and telecommunications equipment following his statement on 21 July.
From my consultations with the industry I believe that the majority of United Kingdom companies will be well placed to respond to the market opportunities that our proposals will open up, but in order to allow the industry time to adapt to the changed circumstances we intend to phase in the new regime.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is there now not a tremendous opportunity open to the industry? What steps will my hon. Friend take if, in the early stages of the development, inferior equipment comes in from the Far East and elsewhere?
The purpose of phasing in is to try to ensure that imports do not flood the market. A continuing certification procedure will be carried out.
Does the Minister accept that it is not a lack of Mickey Mouse telephones, but a basic lack of investment, that is causing the problem confronting our telephone service? Since his policy does nothing to alleviate that lack of investment, does he accept that the 20 per cent. increase in charges and rentals announced recently is only the forerunner of a continuing series of higher increases, longer waits for connections and a basic deterioration in the standard of telephone services?
The telephone system will benefit because of the increased traffic that will come about through the increased number of pieces of equipment available to the consumer.
British Materials Handling Board
asked the Secretary of State for Industry on what grounds he authorised his Department's sponsorship of the British Materials Handling Board.
Financial support for the British Materials Handling Board by the Department was authorised by the previous Administration.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the board recently announced its coming into existence in a letter consisting of 20 foolscap sheets to hundreds of British firms, promising the creation of many working groups and offering visits by members and officers of the board to, and I quote—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot quote during Question Time.
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree that this quango should have been stifled at birth?
This is not a quango in the accepted sense of the term. The Institute of Materials Handling, which was instrumental in setting up the board, meets in part the financing of the board's activities. I have taken note of what my hon. Friend has said. It might help him to remember that the Government have no plans to extend the funding beyond 31 March 1982.
Aid To Industry
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will review the Government's policy on aid to industry in the various regions.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what plans he has to review the assisted area status of different parts of the country in the light of worsening unemployment and industrial prospects since he last made announcements on this matter.
The Government thoroughly reviewed regional industrial policy, including assisted area gradings, before making last year's announcement of changes. We are continuing to watch closely the position in different parts of the country, but we must maintain reasonable relative stability in the grading of assisted areas if investment incentives are to remain effective.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his policies are consigning an increasing number of Leeds schoolchildren straight to the dole queue, where they will remain for the foreseeable future? Is that not a disgraceful policy? For God's sake, when will he alter it?
I do not accept the connection between changes in regional policy and unemployment among school leavers, in Leeds or elsewhere. If the original regional policy which I changed was so magic in its effect, why did unemployment among school leavers rocket every year under the Labour Government?
Is the Secretary of State aware that while the national unemployment figures have increased by 44 per cent. under the present Government, in West Yorkshire the increase is 59 per cent., and in Batley a massive 97 per cent.? Will the Secretary of State examine again the position of the textile and engineering towns in the West Riding and ensure that he restores the regional assistance which they so desperately need in their current economic plight?
The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the effect of the regional assistance that was available. The Government remain willing to reconsider the relative position of any constituency if an application is made to them to do so.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greatest aid to industry in the regions is the conquest of inflation, because business will not invest to expand until the rate of inflation comes down? I welcome his measures to help the regions, but will he ensure that such measures are not taken at the expense of the need to control inflation?
My hon. Friend has identified the key problem. Until we reduce public spending as a proportion of national spending, interest rates and inflation will not be brought down and industry will not have the chance to recover.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the fact that when aid to North-East Lancashire industries has been withdrawn unemployment has rocketed—in some cases doubling in 15 months—is proof positive that he and his Government do not care tuppence how many thousands are thrown on the dole? If the Government care about unemployment in the regions, will the Secretary of State give a commitment to reinstate the regional assistance that North-East Lancashire has lost?
No, Sir. The Government have carefully retained special development area status for the worst hit parts of the country, precisely because we need to focus the incentive to invest.
When stimulating new industry and industrial growth, will my right hon. Friend examine certain industries which he sponsors and which are involved in the recycling of waste, such as paper, metals, glass and plastics? Does he agree that without subsidy but with direction and leadership from the Government, such industries might move more quickly?
I hope that my hon. Friend will either tell me, or write to me about, what he has in mind.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the problem is not so much one of aid to areas as the damage to areas that has been done by the Government? Will he take on board the fact that energy prices for the glass, foundry and paperboard industries are having a disastrous effect on those industries in the regions? Will he and the Secretary of State for Energy ensure that energy prices here are brought into line with European prices?
There is an argument about the charges being made. However, energy prices have rocketed, and our industries have to live with increased energy prices.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that aid to the regions must penalise other areas of the United Kingdom, including the West Midlands, which is the manufacturing centre of England?
Certainly the extra money that the Opposition are so free in spending comes out of the pockets or the handbags of their and our constituents.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that in every area that he has deprived of intermediate area status unemployment has skyrocketed in the 12 months since he made his announcement? Does he accept that such areas will be damaged further by the proposed enterprise zones? Does he agree that another review of regional policy is required?
The hon. Gentleman has answered his questions out of his own mouth, because unemployment has risen all over the country in the last year, whereas assisted area status was changed only in the last month.
European Community (Membership Benefits)
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will undertake a study of the effects on manufacturing industry of European Economic Community membership.
The benefits and effects of membership of the European Community are wide-ranging; a study of one sector alone would be of limited value.
Since energy prices in the United Kingdom are much higher than they are in some of the subsidised countries in Western Europe, with devastating effects on some industries; since interest rates, for good reason, are higher in the United Kingdom than in the rest of Europe, again with cost effects on industry; and since our exchange rate is very high, does my hon. Friend agree that all those grave disadvantages together have allowed for a massive increase in European manufactured imports? Can he say what the advantages are to manufacturing industry of membership of the EEC and how—if only one question might be asked—this outweighs the disadvantages?
We have to take the view of business as recorded today in a survey by the Institute of Directors, which stated that more than half of those interviewed thought that, overall, there were benefits from European membership.
Will the Minister say what benefits have accrued to manufacturing industry in the East Midlands from membership of the EEC, as the area is cascading into short time and insolvencies and desperate difficulties of unemployment are arising in a region that was previously prosperous?
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as I do the serious situation in the textile industry. I suggest to him that membership of the European Community, and having the strength of the Community behind us in negotiating the multi-fibre arrangement, have been of benefit to the textile industry, which would not otherwise have existed.
Will my hon. Friend be careful that he does not encourage people to make the EEC a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in this country? Would it not be more true to say that the problems of manufacturing industry arise from not being competitive? They are problems that would be with us whether we were inside or outside the Common Market, except that outside the Market they would be much more difficult.
My hon. Friend makes my speech for me. He is right on every count. There is no question but that our industry would be worse off outside the Common Market. It is up to our manufacturers to take advantage of the considerable opportunities that are open to them.
In view of the Minister's reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) and in view also of the fact that this year the deficit on trade in manufactured goods with the EEC will reach £5 billion, which does the hon. Gentleman think is more to blame: membership of the Common Market, or the Government's industrial policy?
The right hon. Gentleman's views on the Common Market are well known. He does not disguise them. The fact is that our manufactured exports to the Common Market have gone up four times as fast as they have to the rest of the world. I repeat what I have just said. It is up to our manufacturers, who are perfectly capable of taking advantage of the opportunities open to them. We have certain advantages. Our wage rates are half those in the Common Market. We are not competitive at the moment. We can become competitive, and then we can compete.
The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question. There is a £5 billion deficit this year. How will he remedy it? Who does he blame?
The fact is that, overall, in real terms, the deficit decreased in 1979 against 1978.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what was the index of production in manufacturing industry in the most recent month for which figures are available; and what was the figure in the same month in 1974.
The index for manufacturing stood at 97·2 in May 1980. In May 1974 it was 109·2.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures that he has quoted show a most unsatisfactory trend? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that demand for the products of manufacturing industry rise, so that output will rise as well?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this problem. It is one that the Government recognise, but it cannot be divorced from the world recession. As regards Government activity, there are a number of aspects on which the Government have made it plain that they can help at the present time; for example, on the question of enlightened public purchasing, their attitude to research and development, and over a whole range of issues, where constructive policies are in hand.
As my hon. Friend has mentioned Government public purchasing, will he confirm that there is a better than even chance that ICL will be awarded the contract for the Inland Revenue computer?
That is an interesting question, but it goes wider than the original question.
In the light of the Minister's reply, will he take time to consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about his extraordinary ideas on the relationship between moonlighting and entrepreneurial endeavour?
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman has up his sleeve. On his basic argument, he must recognise that these matters should be examined in a wider international context.
Raw Materials (Stockpile)
asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps are being taken by the Government to stockpile raw materials essential to manufacturing industry, particularly metal manufacture.
The Government are consulting industrial, mining and financial interests about the prospects for the supply of essential minerals for which United Kingdom industry is dependent on overseas sources. The need for stockpiling is being discussed in these consultations.
At least that is an improvement on previous answers. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some other Western European industrial countries, such as West Germany, are not sitting back and consulting but are taking active steps to stockpile essential industrial raw materials? Is he aware that so long as the instability in South Africa continues to increase that is a prudent line of action?
We are, of course, aware of what happens among our Common Market partners. The hon. Gentleman will, surely, agree that it is best to have thorough consultations on a matter of considerable strategic and economic importance.
Is my hon. Friend expecting a blockade? Are we going to blockade South Africa? Or is that country going to blockade us? There is surely no possible reason why this country should consider stockpiling any material at the taxpayers' expense.
My hon. Friend knows that it is not just South Africa from where some of these commodities come. It must be sensible to consider whether we should stockpile some vital raw materials.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry, in the light of the large pockets of unemployed persons, and the danger of further redundancies in the South Yorkshire area, if he will take steps to bring new industries into the area.
Most of South Yorkshire continues to be an assisted area. But industrial development there—as elsewhere—depends primarily on setting the national economy on the right course, as our policies are intended to do, together with the enterprise, skill and realism of management and workers.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that my constituents in the Dearne Valley, both at Wombwell and Mexborough employment exchange areas, have lost all hope of any promise given by this Government being realised? Is he aware that declaring the Mexborough employment district a development area has created more unemployment, more short time and more threatened redundancies for the future? When are the Government going to rebuild industry—to which the Prime Minister has referred—to provide a better standard of living for our people? When will that happen?
That is, indeed, the programme of this Government. Nobody would expect the Government's programme to be achieved in the course of its first year or 18 months in office. The hon. Gentleman is talking sheer humbug if he pretends otherwise.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Secretary of State to shout "Humbug" across the Floor of the House?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The moment that the hon. Gentleman had asked his apparently angry question, he winked at one of his hon. Friends.
Order. It is possible that the hon. Gentleman's eyelid moved. We are anxious to make progress with questions. To accuse anyone of humbug is not our normal custom.
I withdraw the word "Humbug". I do not withdraw the observation that the hon. Gentleman winked, smiled and laughed at one of his hon. Friends.
Mr. Donald Thompson.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment after the Summer Recess.
Order. That stops further questions on the matter.
asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will revise the arrangements for the assistance of industrial development in South Yorkshire in general and in the Rother Valley constituency in particular.
I have no plans to reverse the decisions announced in July last year on regional aids in South Yorkshire.
Is the Minister aware that South Yorkshire is not amused at the Government's attitude or at the comments that have just emanated from the Government Front Bench? Will the hon. Gentleman make clear whether any other part of the Western world has experienced the same rate of astonishing and rapid unemployment? Does he consider that our constituents should attribute this situation to economic incompetence, or to sheer political indifference?
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that Canada has had a similar experience, but none of the other countries in the Western world has suffered the inheritance and the legacy left to us by the previous Government.
Is my hon. Friend aware that we in West Yorkshire are sick of our jobs being drained away to the coal areas of Rotherham, and to the steel areas, where they are subsequently wasted? We should welcome a more even-handed attitude.
The hon. Member winked.
I shall keep in mind the points that my hon. Friend has made. The Government care so much about unemployment in the areas where it has been entrenched for years that we have thought it right to give priority to those areas in our assisted area policy.
Is the Minister aware that working people in South Yorkshire have the skill, expertise and desire to co-operate with management, but what they do not have is the backing of the Government? High interest rates, other high charges and the Government's policies are ruining the basic industries of South Yorkshire.
I am not sure whether that was a question or an observation, but if the hon. Gentleman will be patient he will find that the policy of controlling inflation in the way that we are doing will produce the results that he desires.
Law Of Confidence
asked the Attorney-General when he anticipates receiving the Law Commission report on the law of confidence.
I do not expect to receive the Law Commission's report before the end of the year.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that the decision in the BSC and Granada Television case has created new and perilous possibilities of confrontation between journalists and the rule of law? As the Prime Minister has said that she wishes to defer consideration of legislation to change the law and to overrule that decision until after the Law Commission has reported, will the Attorney-General urge the commission to act more swiftly and to produce answers and proposals for legislation in its report?
No doubt the Law Commission will bear in mind the decision of the House of Lords and the judgments when they are given at the beginning of next term.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, whatever may happen in future, the rule of law is the rule of law, that the law ought to be obeyed and that attempts to prevent the law from being obeyed are to be thoroughly deplored?
That concept is one of the reasons why I hope that the Law Commission will have plenty of time in which to consider what I believe to be a very important decision of the House of Lords.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the number of decisions that require to be taken on the law affecting the news media is ecalating? Has any consideration been given recently to the reports of the Phillimore committee on contempt, the Faulks committee on defamation or the Younger committee on privacy? Is it not time to consider the whole package of privileges, restrictions and safeguards affecting the media and to invite Parliament to take some decisions on the merits, rather than allow the courts to take piecemeal decisions on the precedents?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to admit that his Government did not show any great anxiety to deal with any of those reports. As he knows, it is our intention to publish a Bill on contempt early in the next Session. The other important matters are still under consideration.
British Broadcasting Corporation
asked the Attorney-General, further to his reply to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) 18 July, what his reasons are for refusing to publish his correspondence with the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation relating to offences allegedly committed by members of the staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976.
There was an Adjournment debate in the House on Friday, as a result of which the BBC decided to publish those letters. They were not published by me, because I regard letters between myself and those to whom I write saying that they are not to be prosecuted as confidential.
The House will be grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend said in his speech on Friday, the clear warning that he gave to the BBC and his letter to Sir Michael Swann about these disgraceful incidents. Does he agree that in its reply the BBC purports to imply that there is some imprecision about section 11 of the Act? Will he therefore confirm that it is the duty of any employee of the BBC, or of any other medium, who has any contact with known or suspected terrorists to report that fact immediately to the police or security forces?
I think that I made that clear in the debate on Friday. I have to say that I regret the manner of the reply of the BBC in not accepting the law, which I think is clear on this point.
asked the Attorney-General what representations he has received following his decision not to institute proceedings under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1976 in connection with recent incidents involving the British Broadcasting Corporation.
My hon. Friend was himself able to hear the representations I have received, in the course of the debate last Friday.
While expressing appreciation of what my right hon. and learned Friend said on Friday, may I suggest that the reply from the BBC amounted, in the eyes of at least some, to a rejection of his warning? Is he therefore considering other ways in which the seriousness of the warning might be brought to bear on the BBC?
I think that the press comment that followed the debate initiated by my hon. Friend emphasised that what I said was the law and that I would be stricter in future. In particular, it stressed that I was making clear that it was a stern warning.
Is it not deeply disturbing that there appears, at least to the layman, to be one law for large public corporations and another for private individuals?
The approach of Law Officers of any party is always the same, whether a large corporation or an individual is involved. The various factors that I took into account were set out in detail in the speech that I made on Friday.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it is important that the Law Officers should preserve their discretion over prosecution and should not regard it as vital that prosecution must follow automatically whenever they get evidence of a breach of the law?
I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comment. As far as I know from the records, it has been the practice of my Department for many years that because a case may show prima facie evidence, it does not always follow that it is necessary for there to be a prosecution. There are other ways of dealing with cases, apart from always prosecuting.
Mr Albert Dale Braeuninger
asked the Attorney-General if he will refer to the Department of Public Prosecutions, with a view to prosecution under section 5 the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, the case of Mr. Albert Dale Braeuninger.
No, Sir. I have no evidence to justify such a reference.
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that unauthorised telephone tapping within the United Kingdom is a criminal offence, even if it is carried out by foreign diplomats, such as United States' diplomats working in this country? Can he also confirm that the White Paper on telephone tapping did not cover overseas telephone calls being routed through the United Kingdom? If I send him further evidence that criminal offences in that regard are taking place, will he answer "Yes" to my question in future?
I shall certainly receive any evidence that the hon. Gentleman has which is material to this matter. Beyond that, I refer him to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 17 July.
Surely the reply of the Prime Minister was merely a device, well known to Governments, to block further scrutiny by the democratically elected assembly of Parliament. Is it not the Government's duty to take action when at least a prima facie case is made out in an important, albeit small circulation, weekly journal to show that there is a breach of the law, with the Post Office feeding in material to a foreign Power?
I do not believe that any lawyer reading the article in that journal would even start to believe that it showed a prima facie case.
Bail (Legal Aid)
asked the Attorney-General whether he has now considered the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Legal Services relating to the provision of legal aid for bail applications; and if he will make a statement.
These recommendations are still under consideration.
As at any one time there are at least 5,000 unconvicted people in prison awaiting trial, as each costs the community £112 per day, as the prisons are overcrowded and as about half those defendants are found not guilty or given non-custodial sentences, is there not some reason for anxiety? Since those represented before a judge in Chambers have five times the prospect of being given bail as do those who rely on the Official Solicitor, may we have an early decision on the proposals?
It is right to emphasise that the Official Solicitor always gets a much higher proportion of hopeless cases. Those who instruct a private solicitor when there is no prospect of success will be advised by the solicitor not to go on, and they will probably accept his advice. The Royal Commission made about 370 recommendations. Many of them are of great importance and we are having to look at them as a whole. I appreciate the problems that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the arrangements for the provision of legal aid are unsatisfactory in many respects, besides those that relate to applications for bail? For example, is he aware of the difficulties of parents seeking to recover custody of their children in care, because those parents are not eligible for legal aid? Is it not important that urgent consideration should be given to the possibility of bringing forward recommendations to provide for a complete overhaul of the legal aid system?
I shall see that the hon. Member's views are made known to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Does the Attorney-General appreciate that a great deal of injustice is done in many instances when legal aid is not available for bail appli- cations? Does he agree that in a previous incarnation he sympathised with legal aid being extended into this area?
I have not lost any of my sympathy with the position of those awaiting trial, especially when they are still before the magistrates, who do not have the remedy of going to the Crown court and my feelings that they should be offered every facility. However, we have to look at that recommendation with all others, and there are others of high priority, too.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), the Attorney-General, who I notice has leapt out of the Chamber, said that he would draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary. About bail, that might be relevant. However, my hon. Friend was asking about parents trying to get back their children, which is a civil matter and the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor who, as we know, does not wish this matter to be discussed in any Select Committee of the House. I hope that the Attorney-General will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of his noble and learned Friend as well.
I am sure that what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has said will be brought to the notice of the Attorney-General. I was very kind to the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). I allowed him to go beyond the scope of the question, which was limited to legal aid for bail applications. I exercised my discretion in the last week before the recess.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members coming to the House today will have seen reports in the press saying that there was to be a statement about the abolition of the Clegg Commission. A report in The Times, for example, has the headline
That is a major statement of policy, if it is to take place. We know that some questions for written answer were put down on Friday. Even so, I think that the House would find it extraordinary if there had not been an application for a statement on this subject to be made by the Prime Minister. Therefore, I am asking whether you will indicate to us, Mr. Speaker, whether the Prime Minister has asked to make a statement today on this subject. The Opposition and, I think, the whole country will imagine that on a matter which may affect grievously the rights of the public service there should be a statement to the House of Commons."Abolition of Clegg commission on pay is expected today."
I know nothing about this matter. I have received no request. If I had, of course, I should have granted it.